International software giant, Adobe has really struggled to come out on top of the media storm surrounding the IT price inquiry. All it took was a few angry tweets pointing out that the company charges Australians almost double of what it charges US consumers to download its products, and suddenly it's at the centre of an inquiry that is supposed to be equally targeting Apple and Microsoft.
The whole issue isn't new. Consumers have known about Adobe's Australian price points for years. A bit of foresight from the company could have prevented this whole dilemma. That is, if they wanted to avoid it.
Overall, Adobe seems unmoved by the inquiry and the mountains of criticism from customers. The company wasn't keen to talk about its strategy for dealing with it, so here's an explanation as to why they may not care about it.
There's a sense of irony in the way that Adobe's problems started on Twitter, given that from a social media marketing perspective Adobe has built a substantially strong brand on the net.
The stats speak for themselves: its main Twitter account has over 128,000 followers, and the company is just as huge on Facebook with just over 70,000 fans. It’s built a thriving online community, and in a testament to its expertise, Adobe offers software and webinars to other companies wanting to emulate their success.
However, there's one major difference that separates Adobe's social media strategy in Australia from other local companies - they choose not to engage with criticism. Particularly criticism revolving around the company's price points.
Australian companies now work around the clock to nip social media criticism in the bud. They know that if you let it fester online it will ultimately damage your brand.
To this point, a couple of months ago, David Thodey revealed that Telstra employs up to 60 full time staff to monitor and reply to customers on all social media channels. It’s just an example on how far companies are going to keep their brand clean online.
Yet, Adobe’s has taken a radically different approach.
When asked how it responds to social criticism, Adobe’s Australian spokeswoman said the company is set in “listening mode”.
And they sure have a lot to listen to. The ongoing IT price inquiry has brought fresh scrutiny on its unusual geo-locked pricing regime but the criticisms have been flowing in for years.
When pushed on why Adobe wouldn't respond to any of the social media criticism the company spokeswoman deflected the question, saying the company had already made a statement on its pricing through its union, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and that Adobe would continue to “listen and monitor” customer feedback.
Is just listening good enough?
However, with all other companies using social media to rectify qualms before they occur, is just “listening” really good enough?
For Sean Rintel, social media commentator and strategic communications lecturer at University of Queensland, its not. He says the “crisis communication handbook” says to do the opposite.
“The whole point of crisis communication, is the regain control of the agenda,” Rintel says.
“If you claim you’re just listening, then whatever other people say sets that agenda.”
Consumer trends expert and Deakin University’s graduate school of business’ senior lecturer Paul Harrison says that not responding to social media criticism is not causing Adobe any damage, but the move is unlikely to garner any extra affinity between its customers and its brand .
Both academics said that if another company were to come along and offer a viable alternative to Adobe’s digital design software offering, customers would be more than inclined to ditch the company for their rival.
But as the market currently stands, this is highly unlikely.
According to Harrison, there’s one word that best sums up Adobe position in its market, and that’s “monopoly”. There are no real rivals to Adobe in the digital content creation space. Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, all of these Adobe products are so ingrained in Australia they are widely considered to the industry standard in design software.
According to research from analyst firm, Gartner the company has led this space in Australia for almost a decade. Last year Adobe held an overwhelming 56 per cent of the international digital content creation market, with rivals Microsoft and Apple trailing a distant second and third with 16 per cent and four per cent share respectively.
This fact alone explains Adobe's social media approach. Consumers can sling as much mud as they want, but none of it will stick as long as there is a demand for the company’s products.